CAMP PENDLETON ---- A Marine sniper charged with two counts of manslaughter and two counts of assault in the shooting of four Syrians last year had the authority to shoot suspected insurgents if he deemed they posed a threat, his platoon commander testified Tuesday morning.
Lt. Dominic Corabi, commander of a scout sniper platoon from Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, said Sgt. John "Johnny" Winnick II had that authority when he led a six-man surveillance team on a mission near Lake Tharthar in the Anbar province of Iraq on June 17.
Winnick, 24, a San Diego native and 2002 graduate of Del Mar's Winston High School, is the subject of an investigative hearing taking place at the base to determine if the charges against him should stand.
"They were told to be prepared to engage targets of opportunity," Corabi testified, adding members of sniper teams were routinely taught that a surveillance mission can quickly transition to combat.
Winnick's sniper team was watching a mosque and abandoned store for possible insurgent activity when a series of vehicles stopped at an intersection with men emerging and appearing to plant a roadside bomb, team member Sgt. Alexander Wazenkewitz testified.
Shortly after those vehicles departed, an 18-wheel truck drove up and stopped near the same spot with the driver getting out, crawling under the truck and removing a black bag, Wazenkewitz said. Three other men then climbed out of the cab, he said.
"It looked the guy was laying down an IED," Wazenkewitz said. "It was definitely a threat."
At that point, Wazenkewitz said Winnick fired a shot from his sniper rifle at the truck driver and directed the five men he was leading to "suppress the vehicle," meaning they were to fire at the other men and at the truck to disable it.
Under questioning from Winnick's attorney Gary Myers, Wazenkewitz said he believed what the squad did that day was within the military's rules of engagement.
"If you think the guy is a threat and should be shot, you do it," he said.